Saturday, June 15, 2024

Eating disorders, self-harm rose among teenage girls during pandemic: Lancet

There has been a large rise in eating disorder diagnoses and self-harm episodes among teenage girls in the years since the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a study published in The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health.

The study based on analysis of electronic health records of over 9 million patients aged 10 to 24 years between 2010 and 2022 in the UK showed that since March 2020, eating disorders were 42 per cent higher than would be expected based on previous trends for females aged 13-16, and 32 per cent higher for those aged 17-19.

The increase in incidence of self-harm was also greatest among females aged 13-16, with the number of episodes being 38 per cent greater than expected.

In contrast, there was no evidence of an increase in self-harm incidence in females in the other age groups and no increase in rates of eating disorders or self-harm was observed in males.

Further, the study showed socioeconomic difference has widened following the onset of the pandemic: since March 2020, eating disorder diagnoses for females living in the least deprived communities were 52 per cent higher than expected, compared with 22 per cent higher for those living in the most deprived areas.

Self-harm and eating disorders, as well as being major health issues in their own right, are coping mechanisms that are often indicative of underlying psychological distress, and they share multiple risk factors.

“The reasons for the increase in eating disorder diagnoses and self-harm episodes among teenage girls during the pandemic are likely to be complex and could be due to a mixture of issues such as social isolation, anxiety resulting from changing routines, disruption in education, unhealthy social media influences, and increased clinical awareness,” said lead author Pearl Mok from the University of Manchester.

“Our study is large, but episodes of self-harm that were not treated by health services were not captured in our data, so the rise in self-harm incidence might have been even greater than we observed,” he added.

Shruti Garg, child and adolescent psychiatrist and co-investigator from varsity, said: “The staggering rise in eating disorder diagnoses and self-harm episodes among teenage females highlights an urgent need to improve early access to services and for timely intervention.”

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